Essay: The Star (Malaysia)

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  • Published on: 15th June 2012
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The Star (Malaysia)

A state-of-the-art jet airliner equipped with the latest cutting-edge flight instruments and multiple failsafe systems vanishing in the sky without any warning might seem improbable in the 21st century. However, a Boeing 777-200ER aircraft with the flight number MH370 under Malaysia Airlines 'disappeared' without any distress signal shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport on 8 March 2014.
MH370 was a scheduled international passenger flight with 227 multinational passengers and 12 Malaysian crew members onboard, flying from Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Beijing Capital International Airport on 8 March 2014 at 12:41AM local time with estimated arrival time at 6:30AM local time within the same day. Harjani (2014) reported that the aircraft lost contact with the air traffic controllers about an hour after departure. The last known position of the aircraft was located 120 nautical miles off the east coast of Kota Bharu, thus Search and Rescue teams were deployed quickly to search for the missing plane in the last known position.
The search area expanded within 100 nautical miles in the few days after the plane's disappearance. On 14 March 2014, search area was moved to the Strait of Malacca as pings from the plane were picked up by satellites indicating a turn back of the aircraft towards Strait of Malacca. Search areas were expanded to the Indian Ocean on 16 March 2014 with participations of 26 countries in the search and rescue efforts. Theories and further internal investigations were being made throughout the disappearance of the aircraft but results were disappointing. By 24 March 2014, Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that the aircraft indeed went down to the Indian Ocean with accurate satellite analysis. However, search operation for the plane continued in hoping to recover the aircraft.
The disappearance of MH370 became a major news all over the world shortly after the official statement release about the missing aircraft by Malaysia Airlines. Both major and minor news network began covering the news on television and social media. Many false news about MH370 were reported and confusion were created among the people. As a result, the Malaysian Government quickly took action and reassure the public that they are the sole provider of latest and verified news about missing aircraft. News regarding the missing aircraft can be biased and manipulated by different news agency due to political and cultural differences. Hence, our group chose to focus on how news regarding the MH370 are being reported by notable news media such as, The Star, China Central Television (CCTV) and Cable News Network (CNN) as well as social media.

The Star (Malaysia)
The Star is the largest English newspaper in Malaysia and has a daily circulation of close to 300,000. They operate an online news website and the articles are available for free. One of the primary reasons as to why The Star was picked to represent Malaysia's coverage of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane MH370 was because the online site, The Star Online is the most visited news website in Malaysia. In addition, The Star Online came in third with a staggering number of 1.07 million unique visitors every month according to statistical data provided by comScore, an international Internet analytics firm (Malaysian Digital Association, 2013).

The Star is a newspaper that's linked closely to the Malaysian government, being owned by the Malaysian Chinese Association, a large component political party in the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition. Even though their reports favour the government and can be biased and partial at times, they are quite credible and their daily newspaper is a hit among the older English-speaking demographic. They have been covering the MH370 incident and providing news round the clock to their online readers ever since the plane went missing.
They have also integrated social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter with their online news site to reach a wider audience. They provide brief details of breaking news through these channels while providing links to longer articles that are available on their website. In Malaysia, The Star was the first to report about the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines plane on March 8th at about 8.30 a.m. Most Malaysian TV channels and news sites were busy with the 'Sodomy 2' case involving Anwar Ibrahim that made headlines the night before.
News coverage by most Malaysian TV channels were very slow on the first day and many did not give much emphasis to the MH370 incident. The Star covered the incident mostly from their Petaling Jaya headquarters while reporting and giving live updates from the press conferences that were held in Sepang. Some of the news articles that were made available on the online site and the newspapers the next day were sourced from news agencies like Bernama, Reuters, AFP and such. The star also prepared a dedicated site for breaking news and other articles related to the missing plane to divert the heavy traffic that was headed to their online news site.
The Star plunged into the case and produced a wide variety of news articles that included breaking news, live reports from the press conferences held jointly by the Malaysian government authorities and Malaysia Airline(MAS), and a host of international news reports from all around the world. The Star provided extended coverage in the newspapers while providing more than 800 articles ever since the plane disappeared off radar on the 8th of March. As of the 3rd of April, there has been an average of 32 articles per day and the numbers continue to grow on a daily basis.
Coverage on the incident for the first 12-16 hours was very extensive, where The Star focused on every single detail and the technicalities of the incident that shocked the whole world. News reports primarily carried details of when the plane went missing off civilian radar as shown in Flightradar24 that shows live feed of civilian aircrafts which includes the planes' altitudes, positions, speeds, and headings. Other news articles focused on the passengers and flight crew who were on the plane, search and rescue attempts that were carried out by Vietnam, China, and Malaysia, MAS' attempts to initiate communication with the families of the passengers, and other relevant reports.
From our research, for the last one month or so The Star seems to be painting the Malaysian authorities and MAS in a good light as international media and officials were all out to mount pressure on these two Malaysian groups to be more open and quick in conducting investigations. The Malaysian authorities' concern for the families of the victims (passengers on MH370) has been heavily publicized in their articles and reports. The Star simply tried to show that even Malaysia has been affected in many ways by this mysterious disappearance and are also victims of the situation.
Some might say that The Star was trying hard to alter the world's views especially when it comes to our government's efforts to find the missing plane. It could be classified as biased reporting, because The Star was trying to side with our government. But in a way it's clearly obvious that The Star was merely attempting to tell the world that the Malaysians are doing all they can to find the missing plane and will go all out to conduct search and rescue, as well as conduct investigations to find out why the plane went off flight radar.
A large part of the reports and news articles produced by The Star was focused on the ongoing investigations that were being conducted to probe the disappearance of MH370. Some of the investigations that The Star covered include the identity of two passengers who boarded the plane using stolen passports, possible passenger or pilot involvement in an hijack, investigations on the crew and cargo, and the investigations conducted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United States' National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Interpol who were working closely with the Malaysian authorities.
The Star also sought the opinion of experts and the general public and had articles from several individuals in their news site and daily newspapers. One of the experts who gave his views concerning the missing plane was Richard Quest, CNN's aviation and airline correspondent, who defended Malaysia's investigations as well as search and rescue attempts that were being conducted (The Star, 2014). Besides, The Star was trying to ensure its readers that ties between Malaysia and China was still strong despite speculation that China was unhappy with how Malaysia was handling the disappearance of MH370. They emphasized on the fact that both countries are constantly in communication with each other and that the welfare of the families of the passengers will be looked after.
In spite of speculative reports and conspiracy theories that started popping out all over the internet, The Star chose to not write about them or even endorse them as they chose to focus on factual truth over perceptions of truth. Some other Malaysian newspapers and news agencies endorsed conspiracy theories especially Utusan Malaysia. The sudden rise of The Star for the last one month also resulted in Malaysiakini - one of Malaysia's top online news provider - making news coverage of MH370 available for free even though they're mainly a paid news site.

China Central Television [CCTV] (China)

As majority of the passengers on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 are Chinese, the Chinese media has been making extensive coverage on the crisis. According to Italian Trade Commission (ICE) (2011), with 90% of nationwide television network coverage and 73 million viewers every day, China Central Television (CCTV) is the leading state-owned national broadcaster, most recognized and most influential in China. In addition to that, it also broadcasts in more than 120 countries, while having 5 international channels. (ICE, 2011) News on CCTV are mostly cited from Xinhua News, another state-owned leading news channel and provider in China.
Based on researcher's observation, CCTV is mostly neutral and objective in its news reporting. One of such articles is an article headlined 'Countries in search for missing MH370 increase to 26' published on March 17. The news reports that as of March 17, 26 countries were involved in the search mission for the missing flight. Besides that, it also reported that the Malaysian authorities were drawing up possibilities and sending out diplomatic notes to guide the extensive mission, as well as Malaysia's investigation efforts, including the search of the homes of the two pilots by Malaysian police. The report was written in such a way that it took no sides with any countries, and it reported matters as they were - a key criteria in making a news agency credible and trustworthy.
However, exclusive contents by CCTV are found to be emotional. This is particularly apparent in the exclusive reports of the reactions of the families and relations of passengers of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. It is true that the coverage of families and relations of passengers are necessary due to Chinese people being a majority of the fateful flight; however, the content of these report tend to be emotional. This is seen in one of CCTV America's news report attached with two videos connected from CCTV America's Youtube page headlined 'Mother of MH370 passenger sends emotional message to her son', covering an exclusive interview by CCTV's James Chau with Liu Guiqui, mother of passenger Li Le.
In the brief introduction that precedes the videos, sentences are formed with emotional connotation. For example, phrases such as "emotions have ranged from hope to despair" and "cast aside her anger and frustration" are found in the short paragraph. Apart from that, the videos featured footages of Madam Liu breaking down in tears in front of the camera. This is not surprising, as she was asked about her feelings and family, to which she responded in detail. For instance, she talked about how she forbade anyone to cry or mention about Li Le and the flight around her granddaughter, Li Le's daughter, whom Madam Liu described as not being able to cope with the information because the young girl loves her father a lot.
On top of that, CCTV's news about Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 may skew slightly towards the favor China's political reputation. This can be seen from many of the headlines of many the news articles, especially those regarding China's contribution in the aircraft's search. The headlines often start with 'China' or 'Chinese'. This connotes CCTV and Xinhua's intentions of publicly draw attention to the contributions of the country in the international mission. An example of such is 'Chinese icebreaker heads for search, Malaysia awaits info from Australia' published on March 22. Besides that, headlines such as 'Chinese aircraft offers hope to search for missing jet off Australia' and 'Chinese planes arrive in Perth to step up search efforts' seem to project China's contribution in the search effort as major and crucial.
Apart from the headlines, the news articles also carries such quality. This is especially apparent in 'Chinese joint working group visit family members of passengers on missing plane' published on March 22. Most of the article quotes Guo Shaochun, head of the Chinese task force, about various topics, including the Chinese government's 'great attention' over the event and 'attaching great importance' in coordinating the good care and help of family members with Malaysia as well as China's deployment of icebreaker, ships and aircrafts. Only the first and last lines of the article mentions about the family members. The emphasis on the Chinese government could be due to CCTV and its news source, Xinhua News, being state-owned; hence, they are obligated, if not required, to paint the Chinese government in a positive and patriotic light, as major decisions and policies of the companies are made by the government.
Australia was also constantly mentioned in the headlines and articles of the news reported by CCTV. 'China' or 'Chinese' and 'Australia', 'Australian' or anything that points at Australia are mentioned together on many occasions. This could be seen in headlines of a few articles, such as 'Chinese aircraft offers hope to search for missing jet off Australia', 'China, Australia communicating on MH370 search: FM' and 'Chinese Air Force aircraft heading for MH370 search, Australia expands search area'. In many of the articles, anything connected to Australia would be mentioned. For example, in 'Chinese joint working group visit family members of passengers on missing plane', the phone call between Chinese President and Australian Prime Minister was reported. This style of reporting could also be due to the ownership of CCTV and Xinhua News. As China has close diplomatic relations with Australia - in terms of culture, education, economy and politics, it is to no surprise that the Chinese government would take measures to maintain these important ties between the two nations; in this case, publicly acknowledge and talk about Australia's contribution in the search of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
CCTV has also found to have made redundant repeated reporting of the same topic. This is done on the coverages of the satellite images by China of a large object floating in the southern Indian Ocean, which was suspected to be related to the lost aircraft. The first article regarding this was published on March 22, 19:22 Beijing time (BJT), headlined 'Chinese satellite spots large objects possibly related to MH370'. In this article, the dimensions of the floating object were described as '22-meter-long, 13-meter-wide' with no accompanying graphics. CCTV also reported that the object was found 120 kilometers away from another large floating object discovered by the Australians a few days prior. Another report, headlined 'China informs Malaysia, Australia of its satellite imagery findings' was published less than an hour and a half later, at 20:40 BJT. In this articles, the relaying of information from China to Malaysia and Australia 'soon after' the finding and the dimensions of the object were reported, accompanied by a satellite photo. On March 23, 07:34 BJT, a third article with another satellite imaging headlined 'Search for missing Malaysian airliner focuses on Chinese satellite photos' about the floating object was published.
The first two, if not all three, reports could have been condensed into one article because the repeated publishing of the same information in less than 24 hours is unnecessary and redundant. However, as CCTV and Xinhua have the tendency to present the Chinese government as a patriotic and heroic manner, these repetition could be done intentionally to highlight China's important role in the search efforts of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. This could be seen in the headlines, in which phrases that emphasizes China's input in the mission were used; for example: 'Chinese satellites spots', 'China informs' and 'search...focuses on Chinese satellite photos'.

CABLE NEWS NETWORK [CNN] (United States of America)

Apart from The Star and CCTV News, Cable News Network (CNN) is another choice of research for the news agencies that exist from the United States (US). CNN is television's first news service that broadcasts ongoing news for 24 hours under the subsidiary of Time Warner Inc. (Encyclop??dia Britannica, n.d.). CNN is not only one of the largest news agencies in the United States, but also well-known worldwide for its trustworthy sources. It has nine cable and satellite television networks, two radio networks, the CNN Digital Network - the top network of news web sites in the US, and CNNNewsource - the globe's most large-scaled syndicated news service under its umbrella.
With that, CNN has been deeply concerned over the missing Malaysian flight MH370 despite not being directly affiliated with the crash. The main reason for its wall-to-wall updates is because three of the 239 passengers were American citizens out of 13 nationalities. The use of stolen passports by two passengers on board the missing plane triggered the US to look into possible terrorism concerns. According to Colwell (2014), Interpol identified the travellers as two Iranians who were travelling with stolen Austrian and Italian passports respectively. It is reported that both men as well as their flight itinerary booker, Kazem Ali, have no links to terror at all.
However, with a month past the incident of the missing plane, what keeps CNN on their toes with even the slightest update regarding the missing plane is to gain publicity for their news coverage. According to Reliable Sources (2014), their efforts have proven to be effective in terms of popularity as viewership has more than doubled from 97,000 during the period of 30 December to 6 March, exactly a day before the plane disappeared to approximately 196,000 from 7 March to 26 March (as cited in Oshiro, 2014). The coverage of MH370 almost seems comparable to war coverage that simply catches the attention of the public. It shows undeniable human interest and to be more specific, human, intellectual, and geostrategic interest. The high ratings that CNN has achieved over the timespan of the missing plane has brought upon a wide separation between media critics and news consumers. With ratings almost exceeding the 2012 presidential elections, it clearly proves how large of an audience wants coverage of the missing flight.

What sets CNN apart from the Malaysian and Chinese news agencies is that they cover every single highlight of the story. Taking an opportunity to be the-know-it-all and the first to report news, the website has a section specifically for coverage of the MH370. Articles categorized into labels such as the search efforts, the reactions of families, the technicalities, opinions and a full timeline are one of the many coverages available.
From the researcher's observation, CNN addresses the missing flight MH370 in a transparent and neutral manner. This can be seen in Pearson (2013) whereby he listed down the six major mistakes done by Malaysian officials who were coordinating the search. Although the Malaysians have been battered by criticism that they have mishandled the investigation that led to the plane's fate, whatever listed in the article were not sugarcoated nor exaggerated in a way to defend or bring down Malaysia. For instance, reports on the inaccurate description of the holders of the stolen passports and last words from the pilot's cockpit were one of the occurrences that were reported the same way it was mentioned.
CNN is on a roll with providing even the smallest stories in any way linked to the missing flight. Issues about how families felt, as seen in Sidner (2014) who contacted the mother of the Pouria Nourmohammadi, who boarded the flight with a stolen passport, to find out how she was feeling in Germany. Besides that, CNN was also in touch with families of the Malaysia Airlines 653 that crashed in Tanjong Kupang in 1977 in an article. Also, with the assumption that the plane went down the Indian Ocean, a research done by Arce and Flores (2014) suggested a few high-tech search tools were needed to find signs of the plane.
Moreover, CNN undertakes their news in a very opinionated point of view. With a section specially dedicated to opinions and analysis, it seems that CNN have a lot to say about the missing plane. As the news agency's aviation expert, Quest (2014) analysed that the plane was at its safest point on its flight and nothing was supposed to go wrong (as cited in Armstrong, 2014). Interviews with experts and authorities are evident in each article expressing their assumptions on what they think went wrong with Flight MH370.
From personal experience, the researcher had a moment whereby CNN had important articles that were not even updated on The Star yet; hence, making CNN a more efficient medium compared to some news agencies due to its huge corporation.
Despite the good attributes that the CNN coverage has, the news agency has been a little over the top in providing MH370 news, in which critics label as an absurd obsession. Jon Stewart, host of satirical news program, The Daily Show, made a fulsome criticism of the issue where his mocking went to a milestone's lengths. Despite the lack of much actual news, CNN is going to prolong its crash-related ratings bonanza as much as they can (Weber, 2014). Stewart (2014) compared CNN to the guy at the beach with a metal detector - thinking they've hit breaking news jackpot, only to uncover a bit of metal trash (as cited in Weber, 2014).
'There's lots of trash in the sea; if all else fails, they can make the story about their own reporters covering the search; and speculating about the future is more fun than reporting on the present,' said Stewart.
Other coverage that has made CNN look like a practical joke in the eyes of the world are the ridiculous theories that have surfaced along with the generic ones. According to Martinez (2014), the zombie or ghost plane theory was considered 'very viable' in the eyes of CNN aviation analyst, Les Abend. Relating the mishap to a more bizarre theory, CNN speculated the possibility of the plane being struck by a meteor that was reported to be in the area near the departure time of Flight 370.
CNN is also seen doing a story to cover their coverage of the Malaysian plane story in the case of Martin Savidge, a CNN reporter, who spent the time equivalent of about ten Sydney-to-Atlanta flights with a flight instructor, Mitchell Casado in the fringes of a Boeing 777 cockpit simulator outside Toronto. According to Rothman (2014), the response to his dispatches were so positive that CNN were deliberately booking the simulator to block other news mediums from using it.
Not only is the ridiculous speculations or a reenactment on a flight simulator enough to bring them down, the most recent assumption by CNN proved their irrationality. News agency's weather anchor, Chad Myers, roughly estimated the time needed to hunt the plane down would take 2,995 years. Feldman (2014) wrote that it included a mile by mile search with just one ship throughout the entire ocean, if they never stopped for fuel or sailors.
All in all, CNN should move on to real and important occurrences, and not speculate on inaccurate possibilities of the MH370 just for their own benefits. According to King (2013), he would have chosen to move on to other news, like the mudslide and the ongoing crisis over Ukraine, but right now it's a battle of 'ratings versus logic' - and logic isn't winning the game (as cited in Feldman, 2014).
Social Media
The rise of the smartphone and tablets era began when iPhone and iPad were launched into the commercial market, revolutionizing the industry completely. Since then, social media played a huge role in our lives when it comes to receiving the latest news or communicating with people all over the world. With the increasing variety of smartphones and tablets in the market, almost everyone can afford a device with the ability to access social media easily. In fact, many people with a smartphone, tablet or laptop are actively checking their social feeds all the time to find out the latest news. As a result, social media became the preferred choice for news media to provide the latest news to their followers.
Since the disappearance of the aircraft, news about aircraft had been spreading like wildfire on Twitter and Facebook. A hashtag, #MH370 was created on Twitter and included in tweets regarding the missing aircraft. Tweets about the disappearance of the airplane were tweeted and retweeted all over the website, becoming the trending topic in the world instantly. According to Topsy (2014), a social search and analytics website monitoring Twitter, around 4 million tweets with the hashtag #MH370 were sent to Twitter from 8 March 2014 to 2 April 2014. Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, the acting Minister of Transport became the spokesperson in press conferences since the disappearance of the aircraft. He also had been tweeting verified news frequently on his Twitter account, @HishammuddinH20, to inform the public about the search and rescue updates.
As a result, people from around the world are constantly checking their social feeds to find out the latest news about the missing aircraft. Some users are even discussing the theories behind the disappearance and expressing their concerns. With the missing aircraft turning into the major news in the world, many people and news agencies are desperate to be the first to report the new information. Legitimacy of the news reported on social media were not the priority among news agencies and users therefore many false news were posted on Twitter and Facebook, giving misleading news about the missing aircraft to the families of the passengers and the public.
When the plane was first reported missing, there were posts mentioning that the plane had landed safely in Naning were shared all over the Internet (Pepiton, 2014). Rumours like these give false hopes to the families of the passengers and later find out that the news reported were fake. It is damaging for the families with relatives on board when news agencies and Internet users post tweets with misleading headlines just to bait for shares. Many people on the social media are not as smart as we think, they tend to share news with 'breaking developments' or 'truths about the fate of the plane' without fact checking the source of the news.
Besides that, fake and phony accounts claiming to be CNN and other major news network surfaced on Twitter when the disappearance of MH370 became the important topic everywhere. These fake accounts are posting up tweets with misleading headlines such as 'Malaysia Airlines MH370 found in a bay' with malicious links to lure unknowing users to their websites which compromise the security of the users' accounts (, 2014). Unfortunately, many users deemed the accounts legitimate and those tweets actually got thousands of retweets on Twitter. These hoax posts are damaging thus users should really learn to check the legitimacy of the news before sharing to their followers.
It's no surprise that some Internet users decided to seize this opportunity to create and modify false adverts made by Malaysia Airlines to add in some calamity. A promotional advertisement made by Malaysia Airlines had been modified to have a Boeing 777 in the picture with the tagline 'Wherever you go, no one will ever know'. This is obviously an intentional act to cause unnecessary hatred upon Malaysia Airlines because of the missing aircraft. The original advertisement was actually an Airbus A380 promotion without the controversial tagline in it. Though, many users on the Internet shared the photoshopped advertisement and it became viral instantly because everyone thought it was real.
It's really appalling how many sensitive and conflicting posts are posted all over social media when the aircraft disappeared. Many Internet users linked the disappearance of the airplane to terrorism without a second thought just because Malaysia is a Muslim country. Although terrorism and hijacking might be the reason behind the disappearance of the aircrafts, we should not just link the disappearance to the fact that Malaysia is a Muslim country. We have the freedom of speech on social media, but there is also a limit when it comes to posting sensitive issues like these.
Theories and speculations about the missing plane also flooded all over the Internet throughout the whole time. These speculations are unavoidable and sometimes harmless however there are some bizarre and really dumb speculations which are not helping at all if any of the families see those posts. Some people even had the guts to make tasteless and harmful jokes about the missing plane just to gain some attention on the social media. For example, someone posted an ad on Craigslist selling a 'used Boeing 777' for millions of dollars, which indirectly mocks the flight MH370.
However, social media can be a good tool as well when it comes to tragedies like these. A new community thread has been made on Reddit, dedicating to the disappearance of MH370 and giving out reliable and legit news to the users. Besides that, Internet users on Reddit and Twitter have been helping out to scan the satellite images provided by Tomnod for any debris in the Indian Ocean. Users have the ability to tag suspicious objects in the satellite images and relevant authorities will review those images accordingly. Though most of us can't help out much when it comes to looking for the missing aircraft, these little efforts sometimes make a huge difference.

After the research, it is proven that each medium has their unique way and a different take on reporting the news of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, given their background. This is why we strongly believe that a fully neutral medium does not exist, as people are bound to express their obligation and opinion. As it was shown in the case of The Star and CCTV, the news medium are seen to be respectively painting their governments in a good light because they heavily influence by the Malaysian and Chinese government respectively.
We also concluded that each news media have their ulterior agendas to achieve. For example, CNN did an extensive research and report on the missing flight because they wanted to be the first one to cover every possible aspects to the story, in order to increase their viewership - which they have successfully achieved.
Furthermore, we are convinced that everyone has to properly discern the media we consume. This is especially important in the age of social media, as anyone can publish anything on the Internet. Differentiation of sources that are credible or not is also important, as false social media accounts of credible sources such as Twitter could be created to cause false alarms.

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